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Fifteen Questions for Chancellor Rhee

Since the Oct. 2 layoffs of 388 teachers and support staff, questions have persisted about the planning and decision making that led to the dismissals. Citing advice from counsel, Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has declined a request to make her top financial and human resources deputies, Kaya Henderson and Noah Wepman, available for interviews, because of the pending Washington Teachers' Union lawsuit. The following is a list of questions that she says she will answer fairly soon:

1. The math underlying the number of spring/summer hires is confusing. You terminated 248 teachers in June, while at the same time you hired 934. Then you laid off 229. Can you explain how this adds up? How many retirements and resignations did you have at the end of 2008-09? What other factors drove the hiring of the equivalent of nearly one-quarter of your classroom teacher corps?

2. The Washington Teachers' Union says the 934 hires are significantly out of line with prior year spring/summer hiring. How many did you hire in spring/summer 2008, 2007, 2006 and 2005?

3. Details around the $43.9 million shortfall are lacking. On Oct. 2, you said that total included the D.C. Council reduction ($20.7 million), the elimination of "additional school-level resources" that had been carried on the central office budget and $13.1 million in central cuts gained by "carefully reviewing current projects and responsibilities along with future plans." None of this adds up to $43.9 million. Please explain.

4. In your FAQ last week, the $43.9 million is described a bit differently but no less obscurely: summer reductions by the council ($20.5 million), and "additional school level resources that had been carried on the central office budget ($20.5 million). Where within that is the $13.1 million referenced on Oct. 2?

5. Please elaborate, in itemized form, on the $20.5 million in "school level resources." Is this primarily teachers? The teachers plus custodial, office and student support staff?

6. Specifically what "current projects and responsibilities along with future plans" make up the $13.1 million that was "cut centrally?"

7. Please provide a school-by-school account of the number of teacher and other staff positions eliminated.

8. In mid-June, CFO Natwar M. Gandhi revised revenue estimates for FY 2010 downward by $154.2 million. Was there any consideration given to stopping hiring at that point?

9. When, specifically, did you learn that the D.C. Council was preparing to cut $20.7 million?

10. You've said that even without the council action, you were facing some kind of RIF. How extensive would it have been and what would have been involved?

11. Please explain and differentiate what you received in Stimulus (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act), Title I and IDEA funds for FY 2010. How much of the stimulus funding went into the $550 million in local school funding?

12. How were the RIF criteria developed? Who were the primary architects?

13. The new evaluation system you introduced last month, IMPACT, was designed in part to address teacher concerns that the old assessment process was too subjective and vulnerable to manipulation by principals who wanted to oust instructors for personal reasons. Yet the "school needs" section of the RIF criteria states that the scores assigned to educators should reflect the principal's "best judgment of the extent to which the person meets the particular needs of your school." Even with the time-sensitive nature of the budget shortfall, wasn't there a more objective instrument to use here?

14. How often were principal decisions on personnel reversed by the central office?

15. You've explained your reasons for wanting to do equalization and layoffs at the same time. But given the reaction you've faced, do you think in retrospect it might have been better to stagger the actions, with layoffs in August and equalization in the fall?

By Washington Post editors  |  October 14, 2009; 10:09 AM ET
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Elaboration to questions #5:
What happened to "excessed" teachers from prior closings and consolidations ("right sizing")? Were they budgeted for in your FY2010 budget proposals? Were they carried on the central office budget but transferred to local schools budget at the last moment in mid-September? Are these the "unbudgeted expenses" referred to in question #9?

Additional Question:
Will there be any additional "right sizing" of the DCPS expenses to match the FY10 agreed to budget subsequent to the October 2nd RIF? Does this now fully fund the FY10 budget for the entire year? Are you expecting or planning for any budget over-runs in other areas such as Special Education? If so, will this impact the local school budget or do you have a sufficient contingency plan or fund? Is summer school 2010 now fully funded after recouping the $43.9 million? Do you have sufficient contingency for legal fees arising from the RIFs?

Additional Question:
To what level are educator raises included in the FY2010 budget? Do all labor negotiations for FY2010 (and any make up years) have sufficient funding in the FY2010 budget? How is this anticipated expense funded and split out by local funds, federal funds and contributed funds?

Additional Question:
Since high schools had the largest number of staff RIFs, wouldn't you say that this was due to not being able to meet your enrollment projections? Was this due to student drop outs, lack of matriculation from the middle schools, ineffective recruiting programs or an ineffective truant policy? Was there any attempt to keep the most effective staff members at other positions through programmatic changes or cross school cooperation? If so, why has this been so poorly communicated? What do the enrollment projections for next year look like, especially for high schools?

Posted by: zen37 | October 14, 2009 11:27 AM | Report abuse

More information, please. Where did this list come from? Did her office prepare it? If not, who did? She she cull it from a larger list that someone else prepared?

How will we be able to independently check the data that she provides?

Posted by: efavorite | October 14, 2009 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Yes, please share the source of this list of questions.
I also agree that #5 needs greater detail. The dollar amounts differ from question to question and don't add up. Did the council eliminate $20.5 mil or $20.7 mil? What happened to the $13.1 mil from question 3?

Posted by: Concerned_Citizen2 | October 14, 2009 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Additional questions: How much of the budget was needed for back pay for the 80 probationary teachers that a lawsuit resulted in illegal firings in 08?

Please show us where 900 vacancies were specifically. Show us the need school by school and then show us the the actual schedule "A"'s for each school that filled such vacancies.

Posted by: candycane1 | October 14, 2009 5:42 PM | Report abuse

These are great questions!

Posted by: aby1 | October 14, 2009 7:01 PM | Report abuse

These are excellent questions. The other area I would like to bring up is the IMPACT system. As a DC teacher I am extremely disappointed and put off by the implementation of this. Best practices for teaching play no role in the IMPACT system. Instead rote memorization and verbal repetition are rewarded. Mr. Turque, please follow-up more with the IMPACT system.

Posted by: rosenjulia | October 14, 2009 7:10 PM | Report abuse

Another question, where are the results of the parent survey I filled out last year? I took the time to complete it and since my tax dollars likely paid for it, where oh where are the results?

Posted by: Title1SoccerMom | October 14, 2009 9:49 PM | Report abuse

Another question:
Why did you fire 388 staff positions when the student enrollment came in at 75 students OVER your own budgeted projections and 439 students OVER the Council's projections? How can a well managed system be this much over staffed?

Referring back to Ms. Rhee's own projections and enrollment document referenced in the FAQ published at the link above in question number 4, here is what is shows:

(as of 9/17/2009)____________ Target_ Enrollment___ Over/(Under)
81 Elementary Schools_______ 25,056___ 25,484____ 428 over Target
23 Middle Schools____________ 6,319____ 6,307____ (12) under Target
24 High Schools_____________ 13,881__ 13,329____ (552) under Target
128 ==All Schools===________ 45,256__ 45,120 ____(136) under Target

Ms. Rhee's Budget___________ 45,045__ 45,120____ 75 OVER Target
Council Revised_____________ 44,681__ 45,120___ 439 OVER Target
Diff Rhee vs Council____________ 364__________ 75 OVER Council
(Notice that the document's target of 45,256 does NOT match what Ms. Rhee said she budgeted for nor the Council adjustment. It seems these enrollment projections are constantly shifting.)

So, if the Council is prepared to release $3.5 million from the set-aside for the 364 students, why did Ms. Rhee RIF teachers and staff at this time since the enrollment is already over this 364 student difference? Conversely, due to the RIFing, it would seem that DCPS no longer needs the $3.5 million set aside since they have already balanced staff expenses to budget constraints. Right?

Where in the above published enrollment numbers is there a student enrollment shortfall? It would seem that DCPS must have been grossly over staffed and hiring 934 teachers took place without a budget to pay them. Right?

Posted by: zen37 | October 14, 2009 11:25 PM | Report abuse

Well, well, well Ms. Rhee what say ye?

I want the answers in person and in writing. Eye-eye contact with the people who say you have capriciously and callously X'd them from their teaching positions, their careers.

She must present herself and allow questions to be asked by the press and the residents of DC, the taxpayers who pay her very generous salary.

She is a public servant and she should be required to answer to the public.

If she is being honest, believes she did the right thing and is forthright in her answers whats to fear?

Posted by: 2belinda | October 15, 2009 11:18 AM | Report abuse

Bill, Let me help you out. Michelle Rhee won't answer but the answer is that her focus is the students and she will use any angle, any tactic, any excuse, any opportunity, any mistake by her opponents to improve the chance that the students will succeed.

Posted by: jy151310 | October 15, 2009 9:10 PM | Report abuse

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